Scott Spiegel

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Obama Isn’t Concerned About the Very Poor

February 08, 2012 By: Scott Spiegel Category: Elections: 2012

The media have been aghast over GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney’s remark in an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien last week that the very poor in this country can go to hell.  The comment supposedly reinforces Romney’s image as a cold, heartless country club Republican who eats orphans for breakfast.

Of course Romney said no such thing; what he said was, “I’m in this race because I care about Americans.  I’m not concerned about the very poor—we have a safety net there.  If it needs a repair, I’ll fix it.  I’m not concerned about the very rich—they’re doing just fine.  I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 to 95% of Americans who right now are struggling.”

Only a party with a very dull, tiresome axe to grind would willfully misunderstand the obvious meaning of Romney’s words.  (Then again, this is the party that heard “I like being able to fire people…  If someone doesn’t give me a good service… I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me’” as proof of a sadistic streak.)

Romney’s message was that he was using his campaign to focus on how Obama’s policies have hurt the vast middle class, the bulk of whom don’t receive federal assistance.  As he clarified, “Of course I’m concerned about all Americans—poor, wealthy, middle class, but the focus of my effort will be on middle income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy.”  Call it the Goldilocks campaign: He won’t dwell on the upper 5%, he won’t dwell on the lower 5%—he’ll focus on the 90% in between.

Being offended over Romney’s innocuous remark is like being offended because a university offers financial aid to only its poorest students, but enacts structural reforms to save the rest of its students tuition money.

Don’t we have enough politicians endlessly lamenting the plight of the poor—most of whom, by the way, eventually escape poverty, usually when they grow out of their twenties?  I’m not holding my breath for politicians to defend hardworking, job-creating billionaire software engineers or hedge fund managers, but is it so wrong for a politician to empathize with the middle class every now and then?

Conservatives who argue that Romney should have encouraged the poor to prosper on their own instead of promising them more handouts are missing the point.  Romney wasn’t offering a policy prescription for low-income Americans; he was trying to get a pesky liberal journalist off his back by assuring her he wasn’t about to slash the left’s cherished social programs.

The same commentators who claim Romney will say anything to get elected are the ones who complain he’s perpetually screwing up by being too honest.

Since the media is so interested in divining presidential candidates’ degree of empathy for the poor, how about we dig into the vast trove of encomiums Obama has piled up for the middle class:

“I’m a warrior for the middle class.”

“We can’t have special interests sitting shotgun.  We’ve got to have middle class families up in front.”

“Responsible businesses are forced to compete against unscrupulous and underhanded businesses who… take advantage of middle-class families.”

“In an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle class.”

“I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans.”

Where’s your love for the “very poor,” Obama?  Don’t they need a warrior, too?  Shouldn’t they be allowed to sit up front?  Aren’t they harmed by unscrupulous and underhanded businesses?  Don’t they pay taxes?  (Well, no, actually, they don’t.  I’ll give you that one.)

Obama gives a shout out to the middle class every five seconds, yet the media never accuse him of pandering for votes the way they do Romney.

Meanwhile, Romney reaffirms his commitment to the social safety net and promises he’ll make it bigger if whiny Democrats insist, and he’s blithely accused of tossing sacks of kittens in the river.

(Let’s not forget Obama’s luxurious three years of parading around on the taxpayers’ dime in the middle of a brutal recession: his endless expensive vacations, tony outings, golf games, and lavish White House bashes—celebrity concerts, conga lines, Alice in Wonderland recreations—to which I’m sure few of the “very poor” were invited.)

More important than rhetoric is the effect candidates’ policies have on the poor.

As The New York Times reported in September, the number of households living below the poverty line has increased to its highest level since the Census Bureau began reporting the statistic 52 years ago.

The Times also noted that median household income declined more in the two years since the recession supposedly ended than it had during the actual recession.  Declines have been greatest for African Americans and those without high school diplomas, groups historically overrepresented among the “very poor.”

As a result of Obama’s growth-stalling, business-strangling, debt-accumulating policies, one in seven Americans is on food stamps, and Medicaid enrollment has surpassed 50 million recipients—both record highs.  One out of six households relies on some form of government assistance.

But it’s all good for Obama, so long as he can hobble the economy and slow the rate at which the “rich get richer,” even if it means hurting the poor.  As Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once noted of her opposition in the House of Commons, the socialist left “would rather have the poor poorer, provided that the rich were less rich.”

Cynics will claim Democrats are merely fostering a permanent underclass to ensure a solid voting bloc—a damning enough accusation.  But for Obama, who is more redistributionist at his core than any Democratic president since FDR, there is a darker motive behind his policies:

Obama would rather be less concerned about the poor if it means he can demonstrate even greater contempt for the rich.

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